In this second part of “An unforgettable 5-day itinerary through Ireland and Northern Ireland”, we will explore the Eastern part of the Republic of Ireland, its major cities, and its most incredible natural and historical places.
In the first part, we also addressed two of the most commonly asked questions about Ireland: “What time of year is best to visit Ireland?” and “what are the most important things to know before visiting Ireland?”.
Read the first part by clicking here.
1. Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden
Kylemore Abbey (which was once a castle) and the Victorian Walled Garden were designed in 1867 as a romantic gift from Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London whose family was involved in textile manufacturing in Manchester, England, to his wife. The abbey was founded in 1920 by a group of Benedictine Nuns who fled Belgium in World War I and has since gained a reputation as a spiritual and educational centre.
The castle was roughly 40,000 square feet (3,700 m2) in size, with over seventy rooms and a two-to-three-foot (slightly less than one meter) thick main wall. The 142-foot (43-meter) wide facade is made of granite transported by sea from Dalkey to Letterfrack and limestone from Ballinasloe. There were 33 bedrooms, four bathrooms, four dining rooms, a ballroom, billiard room, library, study, school room, smoking room, gun room, and various offices and domestic staff residences for the butler, chef, housekeeper, and other servants. A Gothic church and a family mausoleum with the bodies of Margaret Henry, Mitchell Henry, and a great grand-nephew are among the other structures.
The Abbey, the Gothic Church, the Victorian Walled Gardens, the Craft Shop, Pottery Workshop, Restaurant and Tea Rooms, as well as the Lake and Woodland walks, are all open to tourists all year.
The Garden is accessible by shuttle bus every 15 minutes, or visitors can take a 20-minute woodland stroll. The Tea Rooms have recently re-opened and are open from May to September, serving refreshments and freshly baked delights for tourists to try while admiring the majestic Diamond Hill.
Admission fee: 14€/ 17$.
2. Connemara National Park
Connemara National Park, located in County Galway, encompasses 2,000 hectares of scenic mountains, bogs, heaths, grasslands, and woodlands. It was established in 1980 and first opened to the public in 1981.
The entrance is on the Clifden side of Letterfrack. Inside the estate, there are numerous traces of human habitation. There is a 19th-century graveyard as well as megalithic court tombs dating back 4,000 years. The Kylemore Abbey estate once encompassed a large portion of the property.
Western blanket bog and heathland are the most common vegetation of Connemara National Park.
Connemara National Park is also known for its avifauna diversity. Meadow pipits, skylarks, European stonechats, common chaffinches, European robins, and Eurasian wrens are all common songbirds. The common kestrel and Eurasian sparrowhawk are native birds of prey, while the merlin and peregrine falcon are less common. Over the winter, woodcock, common snipe, common starling, song thrush, mistle thrush, redwing fieldfare, and mountain goat flock to Connemara.
Mammals are often difficult to spot, but they do exist. In the woodlands, fieldmice are common, while in the boglands, rabbits, foxes, stoats, shrews, and bats are often seen at night. The Connemara pony is now the largest animal on the grounds.
3.1 Eyre Square
Eyre Square (An Fhaiche Mhór) is a city public park in the city centre, adjacent to the nearby commercial areas of William Street and Shop Street. The Galway railway station is also nearby.
The park is rectangular, surrounded on three sides by streets that serve as main thoroughfares into Galway city centre; in 2006, the west side of the square became pedestrian.
The John F. Kennedy Memorial Park is the official name. The square has a rich history dating back to medieval times when markets took place on the green in front of the town gates. It is still a regular hangout spot for tourists and locals alike, and the grassy areas are often crowded on sunny days. A playground is also accessible, and seasonal markets are held throughout the year. A bust of US President John F. Kennedy, who was made a Freeman of the City, stands where he gave a speech to a crowd of 100,000 people in Galway in 1963, on his last trip before his assassination.
From there, take Williamsgate Street, and continue onto William Street. The next stop will be on the right.
3.2 Statue of Oscar Wilde and Eduard Vilde
In this bronze-cast statue by Estonian artist Tiiu Kirsipuu, Irish writer Oscar Wilde (left) and Estonian writer Eduard Vilde (right) have an earnest conversation while sitting on a granite bench in front of Café Wilde.
It was a gift to the city from the Estonian city of Tartu when Estonia joined the EU in 2004. It is a reproduction of her original 1999 work. The actual dialogue depicted in the sculpture has never actually occurred. Despite being of the same age, the two men had never met.
From there, continue onto William Street, and, then, onto Shop Street.
3.3 Shop Street
Shop Street is the main thoroughfare of the city. Since the late 20th century, it has become pedestrian. As its name implies, it is the main shopping street and one of the first to establish a retail focus of the city. Several old brick buildings, bright storefronts, and numerous pubs line Shop Street. On the street, street performers and buskers are popular.
Here you can also find Lynch’s Castle, one of the best-preserved ancient buildings in the city, that Allied Irish Banks transformed into a branch in the 1960s.
From there, continue onto High Street, the heart of the Latin Quarter.
3.4 The Latin Quarter
Many of the most well-known shops, bars, restaurants, hotels, and historical buildings of Galway, can be found in the Latin Quarter. Small, interesting, one-of-a-kind shops line the short cobblestoned stretch of road known as High Street.
It is a popular social gathering place for Galwegians and visitors to the area, with extensive pedestrianized cobblestoned streets providing a unique festive-like atmosphere with its street performers and entertainers.
It stretches from the Spanish Arch on Long Walk to O’Brien’s Bridge to St Nicholas’ Church and back (via Buttermilk Lane) to An Taibhdhearc on Middle Street, and serves as the beating heart of the City of the Tribes. The name comes from the Spanish Arch and some shared maritime roots with the Latin-speaking world, but everything else is pure Irish.
From there, continue onto Quay Street, turn right onto Father Griffin Road, and turn left toward the Long Walk. You will find the Spanish Arch right in front of you.
3.5 Spanish Arch
Positioned on the left bank of the Corrib River, the Spanish Arch is one of the historical gems of the city, dating back to pre-medieval times.
The Spanish Arch, along with the Cao Arch, is part of a 12th-century Norman-built town wall extension from Martin’s Tower to the River Corrib’s bank, as a measure to defend the city’s quays, which were once known as the Fish Market (now Spanish Parade). It was built in 1584 during the mayoralty of Wylliam Martin and called “Ceann a Bhalla” (the head of the wall). It was later dubbed the Spanish Arch. This misunderstanding is thought to be a reference to the former merchant trade with Spain and the frequent docking of Spanish galleons here. European ships carrying wine and spices sold their cargoes at the docks in medieval times. In 1477, Christopher Columbus paid a visit. You can see a memorial stone of this event standing at the very beginning of the Long Walk facing toward Father Griffin Road.
The arches were partly damaged in 1755 by a tsunami caused by the Lisbon earthquake.
The Eyre family added the Long Walk extension in the 1800s.
On sunny days, it reverberates with buskers and drummers, and the lawns and riverside serve as a meeting spot for locals and tourists as kayakers navigate the River Corrib’s tidal rapids.
From there, go back toward Father Griffin Road, cross the Wolfe Tone Bridge, and turn right onto Claddagh Quay. Finally, turn left onto Nimmo’s Pier.
3.6 Galway Bay
Admire the rows of brightly coloured houses that line the harbour, giving it a charming feel. Views of Galway Bay and rows of yachts can be seen on a walk through the harbour. Take beautiful sunset pictures of the boats, with the water reflecting the shifting hues of the sky.
The settlement of the harbour dates from the early 1100s when a castle was constructed there. The port was founded as an important trading point in the 13th century.
From there, go back to Claddagh Quay, cross the bridge again. Turn left on the little panoramic path along the river, and cross Salmon Weir Bridge. You will find the Cathedral, our next stop, right in front of you.
3.7 Galway Cathedral
The Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas, commonly known as Galway Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic cathedral and one of the largest and most impressive buildings in the city.
Construction began in 1958 on the site of the old city prison. It was completed in 1965, making it the last great stone cathedral to be built in Europe.
Though Imogen Stuart’s Blessed Virgin statue is one of the most striking elements, Patrick Pollen’s extremely complex crucifixion mosaic behind the altar is breathtaking. The incredible design of this space is enhanced by rose windows, marble floors, and a magnificent pipe organ.
With the visit to the Galway Cathedral, even this third day of “An unforgettable 5-day itinerary through Ireland and Northern Ireland” comes to an end.
We will start this new day visiting the famous Cliffs of Moher, then we will have a look at Limerick, and, finally, we will head to Cork.
1. Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher, located on Ireland’s west coast along the Wild Atlantic Way, offer some of the most spectacular scenery in the country.
They gradually rise from Doolin to over 700 ft (213 m), extending south for nearly five miles (8 km) to Hags Head. They have grown to be a must-see and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland.
O’Brien’s Tower is a round stone tower located near the cliffs’ midpoint. It was designed in 1835 as an observation tower by Sir Cornelius O’Brien, a descendant of Ireland’s High King Brian Boru, for the hundreds of visitors who visited the cliffs at the time. The Aran Islands and Galway Bay can be seen from the watchtower, as well as the Maum Turk Mountains and the Twelve Pins in Connemara to the north and Loop Head to the south.
The square stone ruin of Moher Tower can be found at Hag’s Head. It appears to be the ruins of a watchtower built during the European reign of Napoleon.
Many creatures live on the cliffs, the majority of which are birds: 30,000 of 29 different species. The famous Atlantic Puffins, which live in large colonies at isolated parts of the cliffs and on the tiny Goat Island, are the most interesting. Hawks, gulls, guillemots, shags, ravens, and choughs are also present.
In 2011, UNESCO designated these sea cliffs as a Global GeoPark.
Admission fee: 5€/ 6$.
2.1 King John's Castle
King John’s Castle is a 13th-century castle on King’s Island, next to the River Shannon, and is perhaps the city’s most photographed attraction. Although the castle was constructed on King John’s orders in 1200, the site dates back to 922 when the Vikings stayed on the island.
The walls, towers, and fortifications of one of Europe’s best-preserved Norman castles are now tourist attractions.
Parts of the complex have been converted into exhibition spaces. Reconstructed scenes bring the past of Ireland and Limerick to life. There’s also a video display, as well as information on Viking house excavations, defensive works, and siege tunnels.
Admission fee: 10€/ 12$.
From there, take Nicholas Street, and, then, turn right onto Bridge Street. You will find St Mary’s Cathedral on your right.
2.2 St. Mary's Cathedral
Saint Mary’s Cathedral is a cathedral of the Church of Ireland dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Founded in 1168, it is the oldest monument in the city that continues to be a part of daily life.
Around the Great West Door, the church is said to have been constructed on the site of a Viking “Thing,” or meeting place, and to have incorporated elements from a Viking palace.
The altar, which stands 4 metres/13 feet high and was made from a single block of limestone, can be found in the Chapel of the Virgin Mary. When Cromwell converted this area into stables in 1651, it was removed from the church and wouldn’t be replaced until the 1960s.
The vaulted ceiling, gothic stained glass windows, medieval floor tiles, and ornately carved 17th-century choir stalls and marble tombs all bear witness to the church’s turbulent history.
Parts of the 12th-century Romanesque western doorway, nave, and aisles have survived, and the Jebb Chapel has magnificent 15th-century black-oak misericords (for supporting ‘clerical posteriors’), each fabulously carved with monsters and mythical animals.
Admission fee: 2€/ 2.4$.
From there, take Mary Street, cross the bridge, and continue onto Broad Street and John’s Street. Finally, turn right onto New Road, and continue onto Cathedral Place. You will find St John’s Cathedral on your left.
2.3 St John's Cathedral
St. John’s Cathedral was built in 1861 and is a Roman Catholic cathedral. The 94-meter (308-foot) tower, which has been a constant feature of the city skyline since 1882, was constructed using limestone quarried not far away in Rosbrien. It is still the tallest structure in Limerick after more than 130 years.
Within, you can see the “cathedra,” or bishop’s chair, which was carved in Munich in 1894, along with the choir stalls. Meanwhile, the altar was made of Limerick marble and features alabaster sculptures depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac.
From there, take Brennan’s Row, turn right onto Rae Uí Bhraonáin, and, then, left onto Lower Gerald Griffin Street. Finally, turn right onto Upper William Street, and continue onto Sarsfield Street. You will find the next stop on your left.
2.4 1916 Memorial
The 1916 Easter Rising memorial is one of many in the Republic of Ireland dedicated to the dead of the 1916 Easter Rising, an armed insurgency waged by Irish republicans against British rule in Ireland to create the independent Irish Republic, which culminated in the execution of sixteen of the Irish leaders. It was built in 1954 as a result of fund-raising efforts that started in 1931.
Three local participants in the Easter Rising are represented by bronze statues at the top of the memorial: Tom Clarke, Ned Daly, and Con Colbert, as well as a female figure portraying Mother Ireland. The monument is built around a stone plinth that once housed a statue of Viscount Fitzgibbon, of Mountshannon House, who was killed in the Crimean War during The Charge of the Light Brigade and was blown up by nationalists in 1930.
From there, cross Sarsfield Bridge, and turn right onto Clancy’s Strand. Enjoy the beautiful walk along the Riven Shannon, our next stop will be on your right, just before the Thomond Bridge.
2.5 Treaty Stone
With the second Siege of Limerick in 1691, the Williamite War between Jacobite supporters of deposed King James II and Williamite supporters of his successor, William III, came to an end in this city. Protestant Williamites from Ulster, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, and Denmark finally defeated Catholic Irish and French Jacobite forces.
The Treaty of Limerick, concluded on October 3, 1691, was a watershed moment in Irish history, precipitating the “Flight of the Wild Geese“, in which 24,000 Catholics fled to France. The Treaty was soon broken, and Ireland’s Catholic people would later suffer for more than a century under the repressive Penal Laws.
The Treaty Stone marks the spot on Shannon’s west bank where the Treaty of Limerick was signed in 1691, granting Catholics religious freedom. It stands on a pedestal with a piece of stone that is thought to have been used in the treaty’s writing.
3.1 St. Patrick's Street
St. Patrick’s Street, which was conceived in the early 18th century by wealthy merchants who were presumably eager to part their fellow citizens from their money, has remained Cork’s main shopping hub ever since.
This broad, curving lane, known locally as “Pana“, is home to many fine shops and is considered one of Ireland’s best shopping destinations.
From there, continue onto Grand Parade, and you will find the National Monument on your right.
3.2 The National Monument
The National Monument, which was built in 1906, commemorates the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, and 1867. Cork is often known as the Rebel City of Ireland, and four of the five statues on this monument are devoted to revolutionaries, Wolfe Tone and Michael Dwyer of the 1798 Rebellion, Peter O’Neill Crowley of the Fenians, and Thomas Davis of the Young Ireland movement. The central statue depicts the mythic character of Mother Erin (Mother Ireland).
From there, go back to Grand Parade, and turn right onto Oliver Plunkett Street, the next stop.
3.3 Oliver Plunkett Street
Oliver Plunkett Street, a busy shopping boulevard lined with charming cafés, antique shops, and restaurants, is always bustling with life. The street features 111 independent shops, many of which claim a legacy dating back to the early 20th century, and is lined with buskers and live music pubs. The Theatre Royal is also located among the pastel-coloured buildings of this completely pedestrian street.
1.1 Shandon Bells & Tower St Anne's Church
The Church of St Anne is a Church of Ireland parish in Cork’s Shandon neighbourhood.
It is located on a hill overlooking the River Lee and was built between 1722 and 1726. The church bells were popularized in a 19th-century song, and the church tower is a well-known landmark and emblem of the city.
A walk up Shandon’s slightly steep terraced streets and another 132 steps up the bell tower will reward you with 360-degree views of the city as well as the unforgettable experience of ringing the bells. Visitors can ring the church bells, which is almost unusual, but the mechanism is now automated, so you do not have to swing on a chain.
From the imposing and intricately detailed stained glass to the uncovered internal workings of the still-working bells, there are reminders of the church’s past everywhere.
However, do not trust the clock on the tower (dubbed the “four-faced liar” by locals) since the various faces each say different times.
From there, take Exchange Street, turn right onto O’Connell Square, and, then, left onto Dominick Street. Turn right onto Widderling’s Lane, cross the bridge, turn left onto Kyrl’s Quay, and, then, right onto Cornmarket Street. Finally, turn left onto Paul Street, and, then, right onto Grand Parade. You will find the English Market on your left.
1.2 The English Market
Located in the heart of Cork City and with an eye-catching fountain at its centre, this quirky roofed food market has been trading since 1788. Under the possession of the Cork City Council, it is one of the oldest municipal markets in the world. Artisan bread, fruit, and freshly caught seafood are just some of the specialities on offer.
In recent years, the market gained worldwide fame when Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain dropped by on her first-ever state visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011.
Fun fact: despite its name, it is far from being English. On the contrary, it was named so for its Protestant origins.
From there, take Tobin Street, turn left onto South Main Street, cross South Gate Bridge, and turn right onto French’s Quay. You will find the next stop on your left.
1.3 St. Fin Barre's Cathedral
St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral (Ardeaglais Naomh Fionnbarra) is a Gothic Revival three-spire Anglican church dedicated to Finbarr of Cork, the patron saint of the city, and constructed in 1862 on land that has been a place of worship since the 7th century.
The original structure survived until the 12th century when it was either demolished by the Normans or fell into disuse. The sanctuary became a part of the existing church, later known as the Church of Ireland, around 1536, during the Protestant Reformation. The previous structure, built in the 1730s and generally regarded as simple and featureless, was demolished. It was demolished and rebuilt again in the mid-19th century by an Anglican church seeking to improve its position following penal law reforms.
The foundation is made of Cork limestone, the interior walls are made of Cork marble, and the choir is decorated with intricate mosaics. The stained glass windows tower brilliantly over the interior, and the exterior is adorned with intricately painted icons.
Admission fee: 6€/ 7.2$.
From there, take Bishop Street, turn right onto Gillabbey Street, right again onto Connaught Ave, and, then, left onto Donovan Road. Your next stop will be on the right.
1.4 University College of Cork
Take a stroll through the verdant University College of Cork (UUC), including the President’s Garden, take in a riverside walk also and then enjoy a visit to the Glucksman Gallery.
UCC was established in the 1800s and is known for “The Quad“, a magnificent Gothic-style limestone building with a Mangan tower clock. The Stone Corridor, which consists of a series of inscribed Ogham Stones, can be found in UCC’s cloistered walkway.
Take your time to admire the beauty on display on and around the UCC campus grounds, including the Crawford Observatory, the Honan Chapel, and the Great Hall or Aula Maxima.
Glendalough is one of the most important monastic sites in the country and a preeminent tourist attraction in the Ancient East.
Admire the fascinating early Christian settlement built by Saint Kevin in the 6th century and the “Monastic City” that grew from it, situated in a glaciated valley with two lakes. The majority of the buildings that are still standing today date from the 10th to 12th centuries. Despite Viking attacks over the years, Glendalough remained one of most celebrated ecclesiastical foundations and schools of learning in Ireland until the Normans destroyed the monastery in 1214 A.D. and merged the dioceses of Glendalough and Dublin.
Glendalough’s ancient ruins include several churches and a tower that stands 30 meters (90 feet) tall. The valley is approximately 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) long and is located in a region of outstanding natural beauty. Reefert Church, Temple-na-Skellig, Saint Kevin’s Cell, Saint Kevin’s Bed, the Caher, and several high crosses can be found on Glendalough’s Upper Lake, which was the original site of the monastic settlement.
Take a stroll around the ruins, or choose one of the challenging mountain hikes that wind through the valley and around the scenic lakes in Glendalough.
The place, which is part of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, is a refuge for wildlife and their habitats, as well as flora and fauna.
The remains of the Glendalough Mines and Glendasan mines can be found both inside and outside the Park.
3. Powerscourt Waterfall
Powerscourt Waterfall is the highest cataract in Ireland, with its 121m/398ft of cascading water.
Nestled in lush parkland at the foothills of Wicklow Mountain, it is a refuge for animals such as the Sika Deer and the native Irish red squirrel.
Summer picnics, barbecues, and short walking trails are all common at the Waterfall.
Take time to stroll along the forest paths and listen to the birdsong as you follow the pathways that meander through the flora and fauna.
Fun fact: The Powerscourt waterfall is an important part of the popular series Fate Winx sagas. In front of the waterfall, there is a magic circle that contains all powers to run the school.
Admission fee: 6.5€/ 8$.
As already said, this has been the trip that made us fall in love with the so-called Emerald Isle. Its stunning natural landscapes, its lovely cities and towns, its ancient monuments and wonderful Gothic churches won us over.
Besides, we had never seen a countryside greener and lusher than the Irish one. That is so incredibly beautiful that I challenge you to follow our path and not to fall in love with it!
Want to see more about Ireland? Check out my post about Kilkenny, the Ring of Kerry, Donegal, or the charming city of Dublin.
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